Knowledge, attitude and practices towards animal welfare among personnel at wildlife captive animal facilities in Uganda – a post covid-19 assessment
Nakabuye, Robinah Sarah
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Disease prevention and treatment, provision of appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, and humane handling are among the essential components of good animal welfare. However, the apparent knowledge related to wild animal welfare possessed by caregivers in many countries is not well known. The objectives of the study were to: (1) determine animal welfare related knowledge, attitude and practices of animal keepers and wildlife veterinarians in captive animal facilities in Uganda, and (2) determine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on welfare of wildlife. This was a cross sectional study conducted at the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre, Kavumba Recreation and Wildlife Centre, Uganda Reptile Village, Chimpanzee Trust and CTC Conservation Centre. Questionnaires were administered through face-to-face interviews. All the respondents (100%) worked with wildlife, and (96.9%) of them were aware of animal welfare threats. Reptiles were viewed as the wildlife likely to face the most threats, followed by primates, felids, and hoof stocks. All the respondents were knowledgeable about animal search and the 4Rs (rescue, rehabilitation, release and research). However, not all of them (21.9%) were involved in animal search and the 4Rs activities. Others (43.8%) were not aware of animal sentience, and 53.1% thought animals are sentient. The general wildlife threats from highest to lowest mentioned were anthropogenic (human encroachment of wildlife habitats, illegal human activities, cruelty acts, human wildlife conflicts, pollution and man-made fires) and natural (infectious diseases, earthquakes, landslides, pest infestation and invasive species, drought, fires, heavy storms and floods). Cruelty acts and injuries sustained by new arrivals with unknown causes were reported by all the captive facilities. Fifty three percent of the respondents reported that their animals are fed on modified domestic, and some (28.1%) mentioned that their facilities did not have a skilled feed mixer, or proper enclosures (37.5%). During the COVID-19 lockdown, majority (87.5%) of the respondents were able to continue with work, and 25% of them agreed they had to release animals in their care to the wild due to the pandemic. On the other hand, 53.1% reported that they got more births during the pandemic. The biggest challenges experienced by captive centres during the pandemic were shortage of feeds, limited transport means and reduced staff at the facilities. There is willingness to improve the welfare of wild animals at the captive facilities, and provisions to cater for areas of unmet needs in animal welfare planning, wild animal rescue, rehabilitation, release and monitoring should be emphasised.